Natalie gave the room they had commandeered another look around. It was more like an empty storage space than a room though. Bare wooden floor boards had been collecting dust. A single, dim, light strip across the doorway was the only source of illumination. The stale air suggested no one had bothered with the room in some time before Marco had hustled her in.
"Why am I here?" Natalie asked as she took a seat on the plain wooden chair that was the only piece of furniture inside the small room. "Isn't this a closet?"
"Yeah, sorta." Marco said without turning his attention away from the camera drone he was setting up. "But it's the only place we can get some privacy. Is the red light blinking?"
Natalie looked for and failed to see any blinking light of any color. "No."
Grumbling, Marco went back to fiddling with the equipment. "Anyway, I'm making a movie of our time here, and I want some scenes at the beginning where everyone is introduced, so the audience can get a sense of who everyone is."
"Audience?" Natalie echoed, raising an eyebrow. "What audience?"
"Well, obviously the government is going to send help sooner or later." Said the olive skinned man. "And when they do, will we have a story to tell. I can totally see them making a movie of all this junk we're going through. This is totally going to be the basis for my memoirs, and the movie based on those memoirs. I mean, first the Sirians, then the - Aha! It's alive!"
There was a blinking red light this time, Natalie noticed as the camera came to life and began hovering at eye level. "Okay, what now?"
"Just talk about yourself." Marco said. "You know, your name, what you do, likes and dislikes. Stuff like that."
Natalie rolled her eyes. "Didn't we do this for our high school year book?" she grumbled before straightening her posture and combing back her bright red hair with her hand. Even if it was dumb, there was no excuse for looking bad on camera. Looking into the camera, she began speaking.
"Hi! I'm Natalie Weisberg, I was born in Kay Town right here on Niida. Uh, I'm a freshman at - I mean I was a freshman at Maria Mitchell University, majoring in business. I like music, eating ice cream, and swimming." Natalie felt there should be more to say, but as was common in these situations, her brain could not bring up the topics she needed when it was needed most. Better wrap this up then. "Uh, and now I'm a radio operator here at Outpost 4!"
The hovering camera flickered off and settled down in the floor after Marco moved away from it. “Okay, good. Thanks, Natalie! I swear you’ll be a star when this hits theaters.”
Natalie rolled her eyes. “Spare me your delusions of grandeur. Was that all you need me for?”
“Actually, there is one more thing I want you to do.”
Some time later...
“And that’s the mess area, where we eat. Over up there is the observatory. You can see Jeremiah and Hilda up there right now. Hi, guys!”
Across the outpost and enclosed in glass, Jeremiah and Hilda in all likelihood did not hear Natalie greeting them but responded to her waving with raised arms before turning their attention back to scanning the surrounding area.
Having concluded his first mini-interview, Marco had been gripped with a sudden new idea. A tour around the base, getting the lay of the land and familiarizing the audience with what was where seemed to be in order. And who better than the pretty young redhead to act as tour guide? His promise of stardom was not devoid of honesty, Marco did find that Natalie radiated a kind of inner glow while on camera, a gentle radiance that just compelled viewers to keep their eyes on her. And he would exploit that for all it was worth. Which was how the two of them had ended up on the ramparts of the wall separating the outpost from the rest of the mountain they were situated on.
“And down there are the hangers,” Natalie continued, the camera following her finger, “Where we keep the sun gliders. Some of them are empty right now because Beacon’s team is out on convoy duty. They’ll be back in a few days, I think. And Patel and Soon are on patrol right now.” A shadow fell over the tour guide, disappearing the same moment Marco looked up. The afternoon sun blinded him for a second, only for another shadow to pass by, offering an equally fleeting reprieve from the sun’s beams.
“Huh,” Natalie shielded her eyes as she looked up and followed the sources of the shadows. “I stand corrected. Looks like the patrol team is back.”
Marco and his camera followed the sun gliders circling in the sky, flimsy solar wings tweaking, correcting their aim and creating a slight breeze on the otherwise windless day before swooping in on the runway. The tiny aircraft left much of the pilot in view. Marco could see Maria Patel, her face covered by the aviator helmet, but her frame revealing her identity, as she brought the sun glider to a stop. No sooner had Patel’s craft been pulled into an open hanger did José Soon come skimming down home. How a man as big as Soon fit into a glider was something Marco still had not figured out, though he suspected quantum physics were involved.
Soon wasted no time leaping from the glider and ripping the helmet off. Even before it was removed Marco could see the pilot had a giant grin on his face. His story senses tingling, Marco ran to the stairs connecting the ramparts to the base level of the outpost. Natalie let out a small cry of surprise when Marco rushed passed her, but followed too.
“I got one! I got one!” Both of them could hear Soon shouting in triumph, waving his helmet and jumping up and down like an excitably monkey.
“You got what?” Natalie demanded when they reached the pilot, camera catching up a few second later.
“Dryad!” Soon made no effort to conceal the pride in his voice. “Right outside Horus Town. Sucker was crawling through the craters from the Sirian attack. Big as a car, I swear. Well, he was before I dropped an incendiary on him.”
Maria Patel came up to her partner and his audience, helmet in hand. “It’s true.” She said. “We were looking for stragglers in the west when we saw it, like it had just crawled through the town. Tiny here,” she rapped Soon’s chest with her knuckles, “got in close and dropped a bomb right on its back and the whole thing just burst into flames.”
“Splash one Weed.” Soon said, puffing his chest out. He held out his arms, as if to hold off an unseen crowd. “I believe that’s the first kill from anyone here! No autographs, please, my adoring fans!”
“Yeah, whatever, Ace.” Patel said with a shake of her head. Yanking on Soon’s shoulder, she turned him in the direction of the base. “Now shut up and come on, we got a debriefing to get done.”
“Changed my mind!” Soon shouted to Marco and Natalie as Patel dragged him off. “I’ll give you autographs later! To my adoring fans, from: The Beast of Outpost 4!”
Patel was still telling him to shut up when they disappeared into the base. Marco chuckled. “Maybe I just found the star of this film.” He said into the camera.
“I thought I was your star!” Natalie said, suddenly protective of her title.
“I didn't see you whacking any weeds.”
“For your information,” Natalie said in a huff. “I’ve been helping coordinate the upcoming attack on the main dryad forest for over a month!”
It was Marco’s turn to look disbelieving. “Wait, what? What attack?”
“Well” Natalie started, a look of haughtiness crossing her face. Relish in her renewed importance flavored each subsequent word. “They haven’t made an announcement yet, but it’s pretty obvious something big is going down on the frontier. Where do you think those armored vehicles were going last week? And all those glider and jet flights we’ve been seeing?” She waved her arm westward, the direction where everything she mentioned had been heading when they were last seen. “They keep bringing in refugees but all the chatter I’ve been hearing pretty much tells us that the towns the Sirians didn’t tear up out west are still active. It’s the army, or what’s left of it, and they’re going in full weed-killer mode.”
“Holy shit.” Was all Marco could say. He ran a hand through his short, uncombed black hair, as if the motion helped him digest the information. Natalie nodded and continued in eagerness.
“Yeah, no kidding, right? I hear even our own gliders are going to be taking part, they don’t seem to know that though.”
A thought occurred to Marco. “Aren’t you, like, compromising security or something by telling me all this?”
Natalie waved a dismissive hand and her tone reflecting complete unconcern. “What, like there’s spies nearby? They’re plants, not people, Marco.”
“You don’t believe those stories about them?” Marco pressed. “You know…”
He left his words hanging but Natalie waved them away again. “Totally not true.” She stated “Those are just people who got caught behind Sirian lines and went loco while hiding. If you ask me, their problem is that they were probably the ones eating weeds, not the other way around.”
“But what about –”
“Rumors.” She cut him off. “I’m on the radio every day. I think I know what’s real and what isn’t!”
She had already made up her mind in that regard, Marco could see, and so let the matter die. “Well then, shall we continue the tour?” He said, trying to bring them back on topic. Natalie nodded. “Right. Uh, here’s the runway where we bring in the gliders. Now, a lot of people think gliders and runways are archaic, but when the Sirians took most of our real air bases and jets out, the gliders were able to… ”
They continued for a good fifteen more minutes, covering most of the remaining sites in the outpost before Natalie turned from the camera to face Marco directly again.
“You really think they’re going to watch this back on Zaphnath?” She asked.
“Guarantee it.” Marco did not even have to think about the answer.
“And Saffron and Emeraldia? Phileon and Zebulon?”
“All of Verandi will know what we did here.” Marco said. “Just you wait.”
Natalie stared at him long and hard, skepticism never fading from her face. Marco returned the stare with his own reassuring smile. Uncertainty and certainty battling it out in their eyes. Uncertainty conceded defeat when Natalie broke off the stare down and turned away.
“That’s good enough for me.” She said. Was that a hint of hope in her tone? “Now, over here is the vegetable garden…”